, an app known for bizarre short videos, is exposed to political heat due to its links to China.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based technology company. The popularity of TikTok has skyrocketed over the past year. The coronavirus pandemic has received a new boost, attracting users who want to escape the boredom of quarantine. According to the research company Sensor Tower, the app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times, 623 million came in the first half of this year. India is the largest market, followed by Brazil and the United States. (TikTok is not available in China, where ByteDance distributes a domestic version called Douyin.)
TikTok’s growth is now under attack because governments fear that the Chinese government could influence the app. India banned TikTok last week, citing national security concerns. The U.S. and Australia are also considering blocking the app. The USAand have banned service members from downloading the app to government-issued phones.
Even Amazon, the big online retailer, has raised concerns. On Friday, the Seattle-based company prohibited employees from using TikTok on devices that connect to the company’s email address.. “
Here’s what you need to know about the political backlash against TikTok:
Why does the Trump administration want to ban TikTok?
Politicians fear that the Chinese government could use the video app to spy on US citizens. In an interview with Fox News that aired on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said users who downloaded the app “are putting private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” President Donald Trump cited another reason for a possible ban on TikTok: punishing China for responding to the corona virus. When asked about Pompeo’s statements in an interview with Gray Television, Trump confirmed that the United States is considering banning TikTok. “It’s big business,” Trump said. “See what happened to China with this virus, what they did to this country and the world is a shame.”
The White House had no additional comment. The U.S. Department of State declined to provide additional information.
It is unclear how likely a ban is, but analysts say one is not easy to implement.
TikTok’s access to US user data may be worth investigating. There will always be concerns when apps from overseas companies collect large amounts of user data, said technology policy expert Betsy Cooper, director of the Aspen Policy Hub.
But she added, “It is unclear how much effort the administration will put into actually examining the severity of the specific security concerns with the app, rather than using it as a threat to broader geopolitical leverage.”
How did TikTok react to a possible ban?
Privacy and national security concerns are nothing new to TikTok, and attempts are being made to defend themselves against political control. Last year, TikTok said in a blog post that all US user data in the US is saved with a backup in Singapore. TikTok also said that its data centers are outside of China and none of its data is subject to Chinese law.
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of security, product, and public order executives and executives here in the United States,” said a TikTok spokesman in a statement to Pompeo’s comments. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, and we would not do so if asked to do so.”
How would a ban work?
According to analysts, the U.S. government should find a legally sound reason to ask Apple and Google to get TikTok out of their app stores. And the companies could fight back.
“The tech community will be very reluctant to agree to this app ban,” said Wayne Lam, an independent technology analyst. “It is a precedent for the government to ban other apps, or even other global apps that are not accessible to the US market.”
Even if the app is locked, users can install apps on Android devices without having to download them from the Google Play Store, said Carolina Milanesi, tech analyst at Creative Strategies.
“I don’t know how to monitor this at this point,” said Milanesi.
The US Department of Commerce could also put TikTok on its “Entity” list and restrict the company’s access to US technology, she said. Chinese technology company Huawei is already on this list. Adding TikTok to the list would mean the app won’t be approved in the Google or Apple store, she said.
Lam said the US government could block traffic to TikTok, but that “is unlikely given our legal systems.”
Governments that banned TikTok could not completely block access. Last week, India banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps and said in a statement that the services “compromise India’s sovereignty and integrity, India’s defense, state security, and public order.” The move took place after at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops along a controversial Himalayan border.
The Indian Express reported that TikTok was removed from the Google and Apple app stores, preventing new users from downloading the app. Users who already had TikTok on their phones could still access the service. Some TikTok users in India also saw warnings that TikTok is working with the government to comply with the order.
Google declined to comment. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Can the government ban a specific app?
The administration has only limited powers to completely ban certain software such as an app. But it could potentially work for Congress to pass laws targeting TikTok, said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group.
Opsahl said at the moment: “There is no law that would allow the federal government to prohibit ordinary Americans from using an app.”
Sounds like banning TikTok and the app stores is challenging. What would you probably do?
Any scenario would create opportunities for legal challenges. A law or executive regulation targeting TikTok could pose a challenge as part of the first change, Opsahl said. The challenges would be based on previous judgments that show that “code is language,” said Opsahl. Among those decisions was Bernstein v DOJ, in which the court found that a computer scientist had the right to publish an encryption algorithm.
In addition, Apple and Google could push back all orders to remove TikTok from their app stores and contest a potential executive order or fines imposed by the retail department after TikTok was added to the entity list.
Is there anything other than a ban that the government can do to ruin TikTok’s day?
The U.S. Foreign Investment Committee is already investigating TikTok for national security concerns. The investigation, which was first reported in November 2019 and expires from the Department of Commerce, may require changes to TikTok’s key activities in the United States.
A requirement could be the sale of Musical.ly, a U.S. company that acquired ByteDance in 2017 for $ 800 million and renamed it TikTok. The acquisition helped TikTok gain a foothold in US teenagers.